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The Humility of Design

If we stick with the design profession for any length of time, we realize it’s not exactly as we imagined. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing else I would rather be doing for others. It is a blessing and a fantastic service I can provide for people. But with a new perspective, we are taught a great lesson in humility.

When we get into designing, there is this illusion that we will create great and beautiful things, and everyone will be in awe of our ability to share joy, sorrow, excitement, and connection through our work. At least, there was for me. Call it ego. Call it self-importance. Call it a desire to deliver. It doesn’t matter because it was a false mindset.

Why? Because my opinion about what something should look, sound, and feel like doesn’t matter. Not to clients. And certainly not to their customers. There’s only one question on their mind: what can you do for me? More specifically, how can you fix my problem? 

And here’s the rub: you want to give them all they want, but you wrestle with the ‘fact’ that what they want (sometimes) needs to be corrected. It might go against what you studied/practiced/taught, and your ego whispers to you to tell them why they are wrong. But, of course, you do not do it. You sit quietly at your desk or couch and work on the project. You meticulously place the elements requested by your client. Taking a sip of coffee, you export the product in the desired format for review, knowing there are issues. However, it’s precise to the client’s specifications and expectations. Attach the link to an email. Click send. Job done.

Tune in to television. Log in to Netflix. Work in the garden. Do anything at all. Try to put the design behind you with self-assurance that you gave the client all they wanted. Go to bed and try to push out all the ideas you could have shown them had they only given you a chance. Sleep now. Finally.

The Funny Thing

You wake the next day to an email from your client. ‘Oh shit. They will want changes, and I do not want to think about that project.’ You decide it’s too early for this and grab a cup of coffee. You drink so much coffee that you wonder if growing coffee beans would be a better career path. Open Twitter. Well, that’s still a dumpster fire. Open Instagram. It looks like Meta has messed with the algorithms again, and you cannot even see the people you follow. Maybe your cat wants to hang out with you. Nope. She’s still asleep. You do the dishes you neglected last night because you were working late on that stupid project. That took less time than you’d hoped. Pick up the book, The Zen of Design. You want to finish it, but you doubt you’re in the mood for the proverbial bullshit right now. 

[sigh]

I should check the email from my client.

You click on the mail app. Reluctantly. As it opens, you pray that the statement, “It looks great, but we’d like to see…” does not include a list that will take another full day of work. 

Then you see it. Wait, what’s this? Are you reading the email correctly, or are you still half asleep? You almost don’t recognize the words staring you in the face.

“This is excellent work, John! The design is exactly what we wanted, and no edits are needed. Our team could not be happier with the results. Thank you so much!”

Oh my god! Can this be happening? You reread the email. Somewhere in the distance, you hear birds start to sing. The sun begins to peak through the blinds, and you feel its warmth on your skin. You are sure that world leaders from around the globe have just signed a treaty declaring peace on earth for all.

At that moment, all fear and doubt disappear like a morning fog giving way to the noonday sun. You no longer worry that the color contrast could have been better. Nor do you care that they wanted three font styles when only two were necessary. And you stop contemplating whether or not you should become a farmer. At that moment, you realize you are, in fact, a designer. And a damn good one, too! 

You see, it doesn’t matter that we always know what’s best for every job. We don’t have to have all of the answers. And sometimes, our solutions are different from what is needed. We only need to be willing to use our skill sets to deliver what the client wants. After all, the customer is always right. 

Taking ownership of your ability to create for others makes you a good designer. Having the humility to listen to what others want makes you a great designer. And that lesson, my friend, is more valuable than knowing the hex code for gold. (It’s #FFD700 😁) 

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